Due to the new lockdown, there will be no public church services in the Catholic Church from Monday until January 17. Thus, at the beginning of the week, the pandemic-related restrictions also apply in the church area, after public services could still be celebrated on St. Stephen’s Day and Sunday.
“Churches continue to be open during the day for personal prayer,” the current framework order of the Bishops’ Conference states in this regard. In addition, the celebration of services not open to the public in the smallest circle on Sundays and weekdays is permitted under certain conditions. The new regulations largely correspond to those that already applied during the second lockdown from November 17 to December 6.
Basis for the renewed restrictions is an agreement, which was made on Monday by the 16 legally recognized churches and religious societies with Minister of Culture Susanne Raab. Subsequently, the Austrian Bishops’ Conference published a new framework regulation for the celebration of religious services on the same day.
In this regard, measures to overcome the coronavirus pandemic will be supported by the Catholic Church as before,” the president of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Franz Lackner, told Kathpress.
Churches open for personal prayer
Even and especially during the lockdown, Christian life continues, said the archbishop: “The churches remain open for personal prayer and in the smallest circle, representative of the congregation, the service is celebrated and in many cases broadcast on the Internet.
Above all, we should live our faith at home in the coming weeks. Those who pray together stick together, even when things get difficult. This word of Mother Teresa has proven true so many times. Praying strengthens peace and gives hope.”
Numerous parishes offer livestreams of church services
The president of the bishops’ conference simultaneously invited people to join an Austria-wide prayer initiative on lockdown. Under the title “Start the New Year with trust in God!” a 9-day prayer starts on January 1. The text for the novena, which ends on January 9, will be published by the Bishops’ Conference.
Services in the smallest circle
Detailed rules exist for “services not open to the public.” They can be celebrated by five to a maximum of ten people named in advance, including the presider, on behalf of the whole congregation. In doing so, “precautions must be taken to ensure that no other persons are present in the church interior for the duration of the celebration,” it explicitly states.
As before, a minimum distance of 1.5 meters must be maintained during the service and a mouth/nose protection must be worn. If it is not possible for a priest to wear a mouth-nose protection for a limited period of time in order to perform a liturgical service, greater safety distances must be observed to compensate.
Singing permitted only by soloists or cantors
The service is to be celebrated with due brevity. “Within the group of five to a maximum of ten co-celebrators, singing is permitted only by soloists or cantors, who are to provide at least the necessary chants,” it says with regard to the worship service. Instrumental music is to take the place of the other chants, whereby a cooperation of vocal and instrumental soloists with up to five persons is possible.
Those who are registered for the celebration must disinfect their hands when entering the church hall. Anyone who is ill, feels ill, or who is suspected of having a contagious disease may not participate in the service.
As before, it is not allowed to shake hands during the service for the greeting of peace. There are detailed rules around receiving communion: for example, the hosts must be covered during Mass until communion is administered. Shortly before distributing the hosts, the priest must put on the mouth-nose protection and thoroughly wash or disinfect his hands during the credence in the altar area.
During the communion course, the minimum distance of 1.5 meters must be observed. The words “The Body of Christ – Amen” are omitted immediately upon the reception of Communion by the faithful. However, the priest may say these words after “Behold the Lamb of God … Lord, I am not worthy,” to which all respond “Amen.”
Only hand Communion is now possible: “With Holy Communion in their hands, the faithful step aside at least two meters to receive Communion in peace and dignity, which is possible with a slight lifting of the mouth-nose guard,” according to the framework order of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference.
Postpone baptisms and weddings
During the lockdown, baptisms and weddings are to be postponed to a later date. Up to 50 people are permitted to celebrate the funeral. This also applies to services – i.e., the celebration of Mass or the Liturgy of the Word – immediately before or after the funeral.
Further, “confession can only take place outside the confessional,” preferably in a sufficiently large and well-ventilated room where a minimum distance of two meters is maintained, according to the framework regulations. The wearing of a mouth-nose protection and a plexiglass screen separating the persons on a table are recommended.
For the sick and dying, the possibility of pastoral accompaniment remains guaranteed, in compliance with strict rules of hygiene, according to each institution. In the case of communion to the sick and viaticum (communion on the way) outside hospitals and nursing homes, the visit must be well discussed and prepared in advance with the relatives in order to comply with hygiene rules.
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